Friday, July 15, 2011



Jarawas on the Stroll

Oh, what a spellbinding experience it was to have run into a group of young Jarawa boys and girls the other day, barely a couple of weeks ago at Collinpur, South Andaman as they suddenly appeared strolling down the road on their way back to their thickly forested reserved habitat after the day’s hunting and gathering!

I was, providentially, shooting there for a short documentary film on conservation of forests, with the Doordarshan, Port Blair team. It was almost a hair-raising experience to sight them all of a sudden and hear them speak Hindi and their own tribal dialect and interact, so amicably, with the villagers.

Serene Green view on the way to Collinpur from Port Blair

A tranquil view of the fields by the road-side…

I simply loved capturing this cool view of the lone Velodrome for cycling (see the picture above), near the Netaji Stadium on the historic Gymkhana Maidaan (ground) at Port Blair, flanked by the Marina Park by the sea. Stealing a look, on the far right, is the historic Ross Island, the British capital of the Andaman Islands.

Aah…! God bless the Jarawas

And their fellow tribes!

God bless Andamans!!!

Thursday, April 21, 2011



Mother Nature Beckons – Save the Jarawa

The Jarawas on an elegant fishing spree

One year after the death of the last member of the Bo tribe of the Andaman Islands (January 26), the UK based International NGO Survival International, working for tribal peoples’ rights worldwide, has warned yet again that the neighbouring Jarawa tribe is also in alarming danger.

Boa Sr, the last member of a unique aboriginal tribe - Bo, died last January, aged around 85, and with her death a unique part of human civilization, culture, society and value systems, is now just a memory.

Late Boa Sr

The Jarawa tribe number about 365 people, and fiercely resisted contact with outsiders until 1998. These largely un-contacted people, who inhabit these pristine Andaman Islands and have voluntarily chosen to continue almost completely isolated, have been harassed by encroachment on their lands by the British and post-independence settlers, in the last 150 years.

Jarawa girls making flower necklaces on the ATR

Perennial pressure from poachers from the neighbouring countries like Myanmar & Thailand on the coast has driven them inland, and their nomadic and hunter-gatherer way of living has thus been increasingly threatened. Although a few Jarawas, particularly women and children, still come out onto the road or into the nearby settlements, they continue to live an admirably self-sufficient life in their forest.

They live in groups of 40-50 people, hunting pig and monitor lizard, fishing with bows and arrows, and gathering seeds, berries and honey.

Their survival became more jeopardized in 1970, with the building of a road through their forest, which brought more settlers, poachers and loggers into their land. Survival International has been calling for years the closure of that Andaman Trunk Road and removal of settlers from the tribal reserves. They have been campaigning to have the Jarawas’ rights to their land and to self-determination respected.

In 2002, the Govt. of India accepted to abandon resettlement plans for the Jarawa. And finally, in the face of strong political opposition, the Supreme Court of India accepted the recommendations of Commissioner Shekhar Singh, and issued the order to close the road, withdraw encroachers from the tribes' land, and end logging of their forests.

The order was issued in a petition about logging on tribal lands filed by the Society for Andaman and Nicabar Ecology (SANE), Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and Kalpavriksh, a Pune based non profit organization working on environmental and social issues.

According to Survival’s director Stephen Corry, ‘As more and more people travel through the heart of the Jarawa’s land, the threat to their survival becomes ever more severe. If the Indian government is serious about preventing the extinction of yet another tribe, it must close the road.’

Statutory display of rules on the ATR

The government, meanwhile, has cleared the decks for creating a Buffer Zone around the Jarawa reserve in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. An amendment to the Andaman and Nicobar (Protection of Aboriginal Tribals) Regulation Act of 1956, promulgated by President Pratibha Patil on July 22, 2010 allows the island authorities to ban private tourism within the buffer zone. The proposal for a 5km-buffer zone has been sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs. It’s being heard that if cleared, the Lieutenant Governor would be able to curb commerce in the 5Km Buffer Zone.

But the islands’ Tribal Welfare department is understood to have appealed against the apex court’s order. The ATR road is a lifeline that links the South Andaman with the Middle and North. If closed, the sizable number of settlers in those areas is going to have a tough time in the absence of a suitable alternative arrangement for their essential connectivity with the capital.

Present-day Diglipur (N/Andaman)

Meanwhile, Bishnu Pada Ray, the MP for the Andaman Islands, who wants to keep the road open, called a couple of months ago for the government to ‘civilize’ the Jarawa. He has demanded, “Quick and drastic steps be taken to bring the Jarawa up to the basic mainstream characteristics and the restrictions imposed on development activities for national highway level maintenance of Andaman Trunk Road be lifted immediately. The restrictions posing to be an impediment to the laying of railways linking Port Blair with Diglipur are lifted immediately to facilitate initiation of the project. This would require going hand in hand with the lightening mainstreaming of the Jarawas, which will also ensure survival of the Tribe as an entity blatantly threatened in the present context.”

The Bo, the Jarawa and other aboriginal tribes are known to have lived on the Andaman Islands for about 55,000 years, making them the descendants of some of the oldest human cultures on Earth.

The Bo were one of ten tribes now collectively known as the Great Andamanese. Most of the Great Andamanese were killed or died of diseases brought by the British, who colonized the islands in 1858. The British tried to ‘civilize’ them by capturing them and keeping them in an ‘Andaman Home’, where many died.

A rare picture of the Great Andamanese of the yesteryears

Survival’s Sophie Grig said, ‘The Jarawa are perfectly capable of deciding their own future, as long as the forest they rely on is protected and they are not forced to live in the way someone else t hinks best. History has shown that attempts to impose development on tribal people and remove them from their land are disastrous.’

I vehemently feel that it’s indeed an agonizing irony that these tribes, the only people who are enlightened and erudite enough to be able to offer the so-called civilized world some of the rarest techniques of survival in this era of frequent disasters of mammoth degrees, are being mercilessly led to the most hapless extinction, much, in fact, to the peril of their civilized counterparts.

The grand ancient knowledge of the movement of wind, sea, underground vibrations and birds that was prudently passed on from one generation to another had superbly saved the five indigenous tribes on the archipelago from the gargantuan Tsunami that had hit the Asian coastline on Dec. 26, 2004, in stark contrast to the Nicobarese tribe that are now completely civilized, who suffered the maximum loss of life and property.

The author donating Rescue Kits to the Tribal Captain of a Nicobarese village after the 2004 Tsunami

What good did the civilized world do for the welfare of the hapless Nicobarese tribe by civilizing them, thereby forcing them away from their lifestyle in the lap of Mother Nature, and what good would they do again by meting the same treatment out to the other primitive tribes of the land?

An insightful, prudent and truly humane deliberation is indispensable before venturing to meddle with the future of these precious jewels of the human race. We have just watched the horrendous fate of Japan…

Wake up! If not for them, dread digging your own graves, at least…!!!

Monday, February 14, 2011



Is it a bird; Is it a plane; No, It's a Seaplane!!!

The long-awaited seaplane, that has captured the imagination of people, mainly through James Bond movies, “Jal Hans”, India’s first commercial seaplane service has, ultimately, taken off in the serene, historic islands of Andaman & Nicobar, the subcontinent’s largest and most sought-after island tourism destination.

As the “Jal Hans” - Cessna 208 A, the amphibian fitted with the modern navigation facets of a large jet, took off from the Flying Club Hanger, behind the ITF ground, VIP road at Port Blair for the hip and happening Havelock Island and flew, in splendour, over the city of Port Blair and the Ross Island, the erstwhile “Paris of the East”, so did the new-fangled anticipations of the mostly uncared for local islanders, who thrive on tourism as the only viable source of living in this vulnerable island territory.

The Islands’ Lt. Governor, Lt. Gen. (Retd) Bhopinder Singh inaugurated the operations of the country’s first commercial seaplane service in the Islands on the 23rd January, 2011. He traveled with his better half on the maiden trip of “Jal Hans” to Havelock along with the Chief Secretary and senior officers of the Administration.

“It was an enthralling experience for the tourists, subsequently, to behold the awesome volcanic eruptions taking place in India’s lone active volcano at the Barren Island, while enjoying the first ride in the sea plane. The amphibian hovered around the Barren Island enabling the tourists to have a glimpse of the natural phenomenon.”

“The tourists, after returning, said that flying in the seaplane helped them to see the magnificent view of the various islands covered with green forests, the volcano and vast sea stretches around it. They were also enthralled with the information coming in from the pilot about various places they were flying past,” as reported by a local daily here.

The seaplane service which has come up as a joint venture between the public sector Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited (PHHL) and A&N Administration will be used to connect Port Blair with Havelock, Diglipur and subsequently other parts of the islands including Southern groups of Islands.

View of the cockpit of “Jal Hans”

Until now, anyone wanting to travel between these islands had to use boats or a couple of PHHL helicopters, which were predominantly allocated for the commuting senior officials of the A & N Administration. It was awfully formidable for the general public of the islands to avail themselves of a seat on the choppers.

Markedly, now again one of the first passengers after inauguration of the “Jal Hans” was the BJP President, Nitin Gadkari, who enjoyed the seaplane flights from port Blair to various islands, while on tour here during the first week of this month.

BJP President, Nitin Gadkari with the “Jal Hans” at Port Blair

The “Jal Hans”, with a seating capacity of 2 (pilots) +8 (passengers), can fly passengers and their baggage to distances within 250 km in about an hour and can land on most calm waters. The launch of the commercial seaplane service promises to open up new vistas for tourists wanting to visit far flung islands that cannot have an airport.

To facilitate safe operations, facilities for ferrying of passengers from the shore to the pontoons, sanitization of the water-drome before take off and landing, a speed boat of 10 passenger capacity & one stand-by boat (inflatable Gemini boat) and one floating jetty (pontoon) each in the above locations have been placed.

According to my good friend Shri N Ravichandran, the Controlling Officer, Seaplane Operations (PHHL), Port Blair, seaplane schedules have been released already to ensure regular and fixed operation of seaplane to various tourist destinations in these islands. As per the schedule, seaplane will operate everyday except on Sunday which is reserved for maintenance. (Details of the schedule and bookings - .)

Accordingly, Port Blair to Port Blair (joy ride), Port Blair to Barren Island aerial view and Port Blair to Havelock flight schedule has been released and the “Jal Hans” will make trips to Diglipur (North Andaman), as well.

Meanwhile, local grapevine has it that this is not the first seaplane in the country. It’s being asserted, of late, that “the first seaplane service was launched sometime during 1995 but unfortunately the seaplane during its return flight from Little Andaman plunged in the sea near Dundas Point - Kumhra-Kheti area while landing on 06-09-1995. The mishap cost life of a Senior Officer of SAI. The recovered and reconstructed seaplane (Cessna Caravan) now stands displayed in the Science Centre at Goodwill Estate, Port Blair.”

Seaplanes in front of the Ross Island during the Japanese reign

However, as I’ve written in my earlier posts, as well, seaplanes are not very new for the people of these historic Indian coral islands, at all. The Japanese occupation forces had used seaplanes in the Andamans for sometime during the Second World War, till the Allied Forces had introduced a full blockade of the islands. But the fact of the matter is that those were only used for the purpose of warfare and not for any civilian use.

As I’ve written here earlier too, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands have been witnessing steady increase in tourist numbers, as the rich tropical rain forests and waters of the Bay of Bengal are home to a vast species of plants, animals and marine life, most of which are endemic to these islands. Adventure tourism, including trekking, island camping, snorkeling and scuba diving are also becoming increasingly popular in the Andaman Islands. The launch of the commercial seaplane operations is expected to boost tourism infrastructure, manifold.

Much to the cheer of the tourists, a special introductory price is currently in effect for a period of 10 days from 9th February, 2011 in the Port Blair-Havelock-Port Blair sector, offering 50% discount on the operational cost fare drawn up earlier. A passenger can now avail a trip to Havelock at a meager fare of 2000 INR one way, which otherwise would have cost 4100 INR one way.

It’s a truly worthwhile experience to fly in the seaplane, as the amphibian offers large individual windows to each and every passenger that facilitates enchanting aerial view of the peerless scenic beauty of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands; particularly the kick of flying so low above the sea level, combined with the excitement of landing and taking off in the sea, makes it a marvelous experience.

So, when are you flying the brand new “Jal Hans” at Port Blair?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011




"कोई माता की उम्मीदों पे न डाले पानी,
ज़िन्दगी भर को हमें भेज के कालेपानी...!"

“Koi Maata ki ummeedon pe na daale paani,

Zindagi bhar ko humein bhej ke Kaalepaani…!”

Introducing the supremely venerable, heroic saga of the selfless, intrepid freedom fighters of India in “Kaala Paani” recreated in a moving Sound and Light Show at the world-renowned Cellular Jail, Port Blair!

Till 1857, Andaman and Nicobar Islands had been just another dot on the map of the British Empire. Came the struggle for India’s independence and the first mutiny in 1857, the British rulers found new use for these islands and thereby starts the agonizing story of the massive and awesome Cellular Jail.

Located at Port Blair in the South Andamans, the Cellular Jail is very closely associated with the great Indian freedom struggle. Into this puce-colored structure were sent patriots who raised their voice against the British rule. Thousands languished for years in solitary confinement in its cells. And many perished, thus giving Andamans the notorious sobriquet of ‘Kaala Paani’ or the black waters.

Today, the Cellular Jail is a National Memorial, a tribute to those who dared. Visit to the Cellular Jail is a pilgrimage for every Indian. The saga of the heroic struggle for freedom is now brought alive in a moving Son-et-lumiere (Sound and Light Show) both in Hindi and English.

The show begins with a brief historical and mythological reference to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands by the wandering spirit of the Cellular Jail. The spirit, along with the centuries old ‘Peepal Tree’ in the compound, takes us on a journey through the dark times when freedom fighters like Veer Savarkar, Baba Prithvi Singh Azad, Bhai Parmanand, Ullas Kar Dutta, Sher Ali and host of others, faced inhuman torture and humiliation at the hands of the terrorizing jailor, David Barrie, the self proclaimed ‘Jail ka Khuda’ or the Lord of the Jail, as my erudite father, Shri Purushottam Lal Vashishtha, the very first Hindi Officer & Assistant Secretary – OL (Retd.), of A & N Administration, wrote once in one of his much-admired articles published in the leading Hindi magazine – ‘Dharmayug’, way back in the eighties.

Undeterred, they stood firm in their resolve, to carry on their fight for freedom. With courage and dignity. It is to these valiant patriots that the Cellular Jail Son-et-lumiere is dedicated.

I’ve been watching the peerless show ever since it was launched in the early nineties and would strongly recommend it to every visitor to these exemplary islands, to include this as the foremost in their itinerary. The sonorous voices of Late Manohar Singh, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Tom Alter and singers like Vinay Mandka, with Louis Banks’ enchanting music are a memorable and prized treat to listen to, indeed.

“Jayostute, Jayostute! Shri Mahaan mangale, Shivaspade, shubhade! Swatantrate bhagawati twamaham, yashoyutaam vande!”


Timings: •• Hindi – 6.00 pm •• English – 7.15 pm


Entry ticket: Rs. 20 (Rs. 10 for children below 12 years)




Research and Basic Script-

Late Dr. Melville de Mellow


Show Script-



Music -

Louis Banks


Lead Singer -

Vinay Mandka

Lighting Designing-

Dr. Nissar Allana



Late Manohar Singh, Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah, Jalal Agha,


Deepak Mathan, Tom Alter, K. K. Raina, Vijay Kashyap


Technical Collaboration –

Mavin Kurve, S. K. Mehta, Shiv Kumar & Robert Kerr of


M/s Philips India Ltd.


Artistic Design-

Late Manohar Singh


Production Consultant-

A. J. Jaspal



Chandni Luthra, R. M. Gupta of ITDC

"हाथ, जिन में है जूनून, कटते नही तलवार से,
सर जो उठ जाते हैं वो झुकते नहीं ललकार से.
और भड़केगा जो शोला सा हमारे दिल में है,
सरफ़रोशी की तमन्ना अब हमारे दिल में है!"

“Haath jin mein ho junoon katt te nahi talvaar se
Sar jo uth jaate hain voh jhukte nahi lalkaar se
Aur bhadkega jo shola-sa humaare dil mein hai
Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai.

"है लिए हथियार दुश्मन ताक में बैठा उधर,
और हम तैयार हैं सीना लिए अपना इधर.
ख़ून से खेलेंगे होली अगर वतन मुश्क़िल में है
सरफ़रोशी की तमन्ना अब हमारे दिल में है


Hai liye hathiyaar dushman taak mein baitha udhar
Aur hum taiyyaar hain seena liye apna idhar
Khoon se khelenge holi agar vatan muskhil mein hai
Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai!”

Vande Mataram!


Wednesday, January 26, 2011



Republic Day Special

Subhash Chandra Bose is one of the few heroes in the history of India who left the deepest impression on the minds of the people f India within a short span of his charismatic life. He was born on January, 23, 1897 at Cuttack in Orissa.

Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose occupies a unique position in the history of India’s struggle for independence. Although he was a member of the Congress, Bose took a different path in his struggle for Indian independence. 23rd, January was his 114th birth anniversary and he still remains largely unforgotten today.

Subhash was an indefatigable fighter for democracy within the Congress.  Mahatma Gandhi loved Subhash and Subhash had the highest respect for him. Gandhi called him “Dare-all Leader”.

Though Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru have garnered much of the credit for successful culmination of the great Indian Freedom Struggle, the contribution of Netaji is no less, by any means. He began his political career in Calcutta and soon became the leader of the left wing of the Indian National Congress.

Bose was elected President of the Indian National Congress in 1938-39, but resigned from the post following ideological conflicts with Mahatma Gandhi. Netaji believed that Gandhiji’s way of non-violence may not be sufficient to secure India’s independence and advocated aggressive resistance.

Over a span of 20 years, Netaji Bose was incarcerated eleven times by the British, either in India or in Rangoon (Burma). During the mid 1930s, the British exiled him from India to Europe, where he championed India’s cause and aspiration of self-rule before gatherings and conferences. In 1941, he escaped and fled to Germany. In 1943, he headed in Singapore, a Japanese sponsored ‘provisional government of India’ and revived the Indian National Army (INA), which was formed initially under Captain Mohan Singh in 1942, immediately after the fall of Singapore in December that year.

The provisional government of the Azad Hind was recognized by Japan on 23rd October 1943, and was also recognized by Germany, Way, Manchuko, Philippines, Burma, National China, Hungry and Croatia.

On 8th November 1943, Netaji announced in a press release that the return of the Andamans to the Indians would be the first territory to be liberated from the British yoke.

The Azad Hind Fauj (INA)

Finally, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose raised the flag of Indian independence and established his headquarters at Port Blair, on December 30, 1943 and declared the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, the first Indian Territory freed from the British rule. (Read more here)

A proclamation was issued at Singapore by the provisional government of India, under the signatures of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose as the Head of State, Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, who took the oath of allegiance to India in the following words:

"In the name of God, I take this sacred oath that to liberate India and the thirty eight crores of my countrymen I, Subhash Chandra Bose, will continue this sacred war of freedom until the last breath of my life. I shall always remain a servant of India and look after the welfare of the 38 crores of Indian brothers and sisters. This shall be for me my highest duty. Even after winning freedom, I will always be prepared to shed the last drop of my blood for the preservation of India’s freedom."

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Netaji visited Germany and met up with Hitler and other Italian and Japanese leaders. He sought their assistance in the fight for India's freedom. Netaji declared open war against the British rulers of India.

Netaji with Hitler

The Indian National Army (INA) fought shoulder to shoulder against the allied forces in Burma and eastern front of India and had confronted the colonial forces up to Imphal (Manipur). With the help from Germany and active support from Japan, they shook the very foundation of the British Empire. However, defeat of Japan and Germany in the World War II, forced INA to retreat and it, unfortunately, could not achieve its ultimate objective of a Free India.

Gandhi once paid his tribute to Bose in the following words: “The greatest and the lasting act of Netaji was that he abolished all distinctions of caste and class. He was Indian first and last. What is more, he fired all under him with the same zeal so that they forgot in his presence all distinctions and acted as one man.”

As the circumstances surrounding the death of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose remains shrouded in mystery, official documents declassified by the government say the revolutionary leader was a victim of an air crash on August 18, 1945 over Taiwan (Formosa). He was then only forty-eight years old.

No Indian could believe the shocking news. The nation still refuses to believe that their true idol of patriotism, Netaji, is no more. On his 114th Birth Anniversary, various organizations, educational institutions, youth clubs other than the Andaman & Nicobar Administration, organized befitting programs at various places in different islands, paying tributes to the great hero. The 40th Subhash Mela has been organized at Bakultala, Middle Andaman and Havelock Island, to mark the occasion.

Statue of Netaji at Marina Park, Port Blair

Today, on the occasion of India’s 62nd Republic Day, it is time to recognize the grand truth: First, it was the Fall of Singapore in 1942, not the Quit India Movement that was the beginning of the end of the British Empire; and finally, it was Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose before anyone else who was responsible for India’s freedom in 1947.

Salute to Netaji!

Happy and Proud 62nd Republic Day!